CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE HAS LOST THE BATTLE WITH CANCER. But that doesn’t mean the war is over. Let me explain why we may finally be heading in the right direction.
I just returned from TEDMED, an extraordinary gathering of brilliant minds from science, medicine, business, and technology—a veritable intellectual orgy. During the conference, there was a theme that emerged: Synthesis.
Instead of dividing everything into diseases and labels, emerging science is pointing to a different way of thinking about diseases. The thread that ran through the conference was that disease is a systemic problem and we have to treat the system, not the symptom; the cause, not the disease. This completely redefines the whole notion of disease. The landscape of illness is changing.
At TEDMED I spoke about a new way to define disease, to navigate the landscape of illness. It is called functional medicine, which is a systems-biology approach to personalized medicine that focuses on the underlying causes of disease. That definition of functional medicine is a mouthful. But in a word, it is the medicine of WHY, not WHAT.
Conventional medicine is focused on naming diseases based on geography, body location, and specialty, instead of by the cause, mechanism, or pathway involved. Doctors say you have a liver, kidney, brain, or heart disease. But this approach to naming disease tells you nothing about the cause, and it is quickly becoming obsolete as we understand more about the mysteries of human biology.
Instead of asking what disease you have and what drug should be used to treat it, we must ask WHY the disease has occurred—what are the underlying causes that lead to illness and how do we look under the hood to find out what’s going on. Modern medicine is like trying to diagnose what’s wrong with your car by listening to the noises it makes without ever looking inside to see what’s going on. Functional medicine allows us to look under the hood. It gives us a method for identifying the conditions in which disease arises and shows us how to begin changing those conditions.
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